When Will We Ever Learn?

istock_000005803734xsmall.jpgby Barbara Mullen —

I haven’t cried about Vietnam in a long time but I have lately. I lament the fact that there are war casualties like me and my children everywhere in our country who get up every day trying to act as if a war hasn’t changed their lives forever.

My husband, USMC Lt. Col. (a Captain then) William F. Mullen, left for Vietnam in May, 1965, with his A4E squadron from El Toro, California. Our two boys were 2 1/2 and 4 when they waved goodbye to their father that day.

His plane was shot down twelve months later on April 29, 1966, two weeks before he was to come home. He was listed as MIA, a presumed POW, for 10 years until May 1976, when he was declared killed in action.

About six years ago intelligence from former North Vietnam military officers confirmed to our Defense Department that my husband’s parachute had carried him straight down into a North Vietnam Headquarters on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos. Since then the Defense Department has located a grave where eventually the North Vietnamese buried him.

I grieve for all those who survive wars and for the struggles they will face way past the time others will remember their sacrifice. And also for the way they and their loved ones will be expected to endure physical and emotional disabilities and even death as though their hearts have not been sliced in two.

Which is why I am so sad that John McCain, an aviator like my husband, shot down in war, continues to pursue an indeterminate victory in Iraq in spite of the terrible casualties this will cause.

Just think how many lives we’d have saved by leaving Vietnam earlier; perhaps even in time for my husband, a presumed POW, to be released as John McCain was lucky enough to be.

In addition to John McCain’s stand on wars since Vietnam, he has turned his back on the POWs who were left behind after the Vietnam Peace Accords that did not mention the servicemen, mostly pilots, who were captured during the “secret war” in Laos.

My husband and an estimated 400 plus aviators were shot down, many captured and later buried by the North Vietnamese along the Ho Chi Minh Trail and elsewhere in Laos — so many, in fact, that although my husband’s grave was found more than five years ago, the list for returning the remains of these POWs is so long they will not excavate my husband’s grave for at least three more years.

When McCain was released with those POW’s “fortunate” enough to have been shot down in North Vietnam, he had no idea what had happened to the aviators, including my husband, who, flying the same Navy/Marine Corps aircraft, an A4E, as McCain and shot down by the same adversary.

The only difference between them being a matter of mission, one over North Vietnam, the other over Laos. When John McCain returned from Vietnam however he refused to talk about the men left behind even though we families begged him to do so.

Since then he has balked at all efforts to find out how long they lived or how they died. Is McCain a hero? I say not since he was released and not as heroic as those he has refused to acknowledge.

Personally I am also fed up with McCain using his former POW status as a means of winning elections and continuing an unnecesary and costly war in Iraq – especially while he continues to vote against bills in congress that support veterans.

I will not vote for John McCain. How could I?

Barbara Mullen

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  1. william jindra says

    i sure hope geoargia contacts the obama campaign i don’t think i can stand the right running the show another 4 yrs i know now with what is going we will never get healthcare even if obama is elected and i pray he does

  2. Len Smith says


    I read your book only a year or so ago and admire the stance you took at the time as one of few, at the time, that worked against the war as well as advocating for Bill.

    Len Smith

  3. Don Osmer says

    I had always heard pieces of your husbands story and thought of you many times while hearing of wives whose husbands will not return from Iraq or Afganistan.
    Thank you for sharing and your views of John McCain should be listened to by many!

    Your Friend,

    Don Osmer

  4. Georgia says

    Obama needs to put widows, other POW’s, the vets with no health care on one of his anti McCain ads. Then he needs to have all the Generals that are against the Iraq war in an ad on TV telling when and why they came to the conclusion to vote for Obama, not McCain. These ADS HAVE GOT TO HAVE A PERSONAL CONNECTION WITH AMERICANS. Especially if McCain is thinking about a draft next. In this case, FEAR is a good tactic for shaking up voters that are still sittiing on a fence. And another good campaign would be to show women who knew of women that had died of back alley abortions, women who were rape victims and wanted an abortion. Then display all the children that are currently in foster care or waiting for adoption because they were unwanted. Be strong and be brave. No one wants their brother to be forced to go to war, and no woman wants to be denied the right to abortion, or better yet free birth control.

    • WomanforPeaceSanity says

      Brilliant idea! Have you approached Team Obama with this ad idea? I think that after two days of “lipstick on a pig” destractions, that ad would help work wonders to put McCain back on the defensive and give obama the edge he deserves.

      I shed a few tears reading this article. My husband was a doctor right out of his residency when he was deployed to Viet Nam. Thank God he came home safely. Our two boys were only 2 and 3 years old when he was deployed. The youngest one could not believe that he was his Dad (after a year away) and ran and got the tape recorder, showed it to his Daddy and said “This is my Daddy”. Van had sent regular messages home to his family! McCain should be ashame of himself. War is NEVER the thing to do unless we are under attack! 9/11 does NOT QUALIFY! Those were a few fanatics, not Iraq!

    • Genene says

      I agree with you 100%.Have you contacted the Obama headquaters with this idea? If not please do, our country needs to see something like this.
      God Bless you.

  5. Mel Goldstein says

    My son worked for three years as an MIA searcher in Laos and Vietnam. Given that there was unstable ordnance in all of his digs, we waited with bated breath for his return from each trip. I assure you that while it may take time to excavate your husband’s site, there are many dedicated individuals risking physical consequences who will answer your questions.

    I too have been sick at McCain’s speaking with one voice and acting another way. On all issues he has been on the wrong side in supporting the troops ( he supported the war – allowed them to be sent without sufficient equipment and planning- and wants to stay until an undefined “victory”. And in supporting our veterans (in either the GI Bill or added funding for medical care.)

    In both cases his voice would have carried much weight in the discussion. He reminds us consistently about his sacrifice for this country. But he has behaved like a hypocrite.

    I hope people will think before they give him their vote. His support is not with those who need it.

  6. Linda G says

    Mrs Mullen

    I am so sorry for your loss, what was taken from you and your sons can never be repaid.
    As a veteran myself I was horrified when our government led us into yet another unjustified war. All the loss on both sides is unforgivable.
    My first thought when hearing that McCain supported the war was “Shame on you, you of all people should know better.”
    I will not vote for McCain/Palin but I am worried that many, many voters will only listen to the rhetoric and their own prejudices and fears when going to the polls.

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